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Understanding Service Businesses Appendix B

This is Appendix B from the Understanding Service Businesses workbook.

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Flowcharting Service Processes

(Note: This appendix gives the student a basic introduction to flowcharting with particular descriptions of a technique known a service blueprinting. Students with flowcharting experience may skim over the first portion, but should study the parts on blueprinting.)

Very often when we analyze service businesses it is helpful to consider the various steps in the process. The process can be written out as series of numbered steps, such as the following:

The Carpet Cleaning Process

  1. Go to first room.
  2. Move furniture away from walls.
  3. Steam clean behind furniture.
  4. Move furniture back to original positions.
  5. Steam clean remainder of carpet.
  6. Go to next room.
  7. Repeat at step 2.

Lists of steps works fine for relatively simple processes, and even for some complex processes. Other processes are divergent, involving conditional steps that change the sequence of steps based on particular conditions. For example, consider the process of setting a customer up on a fitness program at a health club.

The Fitness Program Set-up Process

  1. Gather basic information about the customer’s health and fitness history.
  2. Has customer been on a fitness program recently? If not, skip to step 4.
  3. Review the prior fitness program.
  4. Has customer had health problems that may limit a fitness program. If not, skip to step 7.
  5. Advise customer to get a physical checkup before beginning the fitness program.
  6. Schedule a follow-up consultation (for after they have a checkup). Stop.
  7. Create a list of exercises appropriate for the customer’s age and weight.
  8. Show customer how to do each exercise, having them do each.
  9. Does the customer appear to have physical discomfort with the exercises? If no, then go to step 13.
  10. Does the discomfort result from too strenuous of exercises? If no, go to step 5.
  11. Reduce the intensity of the program.
  12. Go to step 8.
  13. Schedule a follow-up consultation. Stop.

That is not a very complex process as described, but the various questions and branches makes it a bit confusing to follow. The process would be easier to follow with a flowchart, such as the one shown on the following diagram.

Click here to see a fitness center flowchart. (Back returns to this page)

Basic Flowchart Elements

The example on the prior page illustrates some simple flowchart elements, which will be described below.

The most basic flowchart element is a statement which is a step in the process to perform. Flowcharting conventions place statements in rectangles.

This is a statement.


Greet the customer.


Calculate the total.

Statements are connected with arrows, which show the flow from one step to another.

First step.
Second step.
Third step.

Decisions are represented by diamonds. Some decisions have dichotomous (two possible state) outcomes, such as yes or no.

yes/no decision

Other decisions may have hundreds of possible outcomes. These decisions may also be placed in a diamond.

other decisions

Sometimes we need to branch to a different point on the flowchart. Referenced points in a flowchart are often represented by circled words. A common example is the points at which a flowchart starts and ends.


Triangles are used to represent various things in different types of flowcharts. A critical element to manage in service processes is customer or employee waiting. Triangles are a good way to represent waiting.


These were just a few simple examples of flowcharts using the basic elements.

Service Blueprinting

Service blueprinting is a special type of process flowcharting. Service blueprinting involves layers of steps, with each layer representing a different proximity to the customer or different functional areas. The original method of service blueprinting is attributed to Lynn Shostack. Also, much of the following information is adapted by the article “The ABCs of Service System Blueprinting” by Jane Kingman-Brundage.

The metaphor for a service blueprint is an architectural blueprint. One way to specify the design of a building is by listing all of the desired features, such as number and sizes of rooms, locations of light fixtures, etc. A more complex task would be to enumerate the steps of construction. A more practical way to specify the design of a building is through a blueprint. Blueprints show various aspects of a building and how they interact. Blueprints help identify potential problems, such as improperly placed support (load bearing) walls or inefficient walking paths through the building.

Likewise, a service blueprint shows the interaction of various elements of a service process. In particular, service blueprints help us identify potential problems such as inefficiencies, unacceptable customer wait, and need for coordination between customers, contact employees, and support personnel.

A simple service blueprint may involve two layers, a “front office” and a “back office.” The front office, called by some the “front stage,” is those parts of the service process that are “visible” to the customer. Activities in the front office may include greeting with the customer, taking the customer’s order, operating on the customer’s ingrown toenail, etc. Note that some of these activities can be performed over the telephone, and are thus part of the front office. “Visible” to the customer means that the customer is aware of how the process is going.

The back office, or “back stage,” involves those parts of the process that are not “visible” to the customer. Generally, everything that takes place in a restaurant’s kitchen is back office. Customer inputs are likely to be involved in back office processes, but the customers themselves are not.

In a service blueprint, the front office is separated from the back office by a “line of visibility.” Think for a moment: Do we manage the front office differently from the way we manage the back office? As stated in Fitzsimmons2, page 86, “The front office is where the customer contact occurs, with concern for ambiance and effectiveness being necessary” and “The back office is hidden from the customer and often operated as a factory for efficiency.” The front office and back office have different roles, and need to complement one another.

More complex service blueprints may have more layers than just a front and back office. For example, the front office may be divided into three parts, one involving customer taking action on their own, one involving customer interaction with employees, and the third involving customer observation but not interaction. Further, the back office may be divided according to who does the work: the contact (front-line) employees, the support staff, the management, or outside service suppliers. These various layers of the process are depicted in the following diagram:

Service Blueprint Elements

  Layer of Service Process Who Performs Process Steps


Customer Action customers (self-serve) Front
line of independence –›
Customer Interaction contact employees & customers
line of interaction –›
Customer Vision contact employees
line of visibility –›
Backstage Preparation contact & support employees Back
line of internal interaction –›
Support Functions support employees
line of implementation –›
Management Functions management
company boundary –›
Outside Service Suppliers outside supplier External

Creating Service Blueprints

Architectural blueprints can be rendered with different amounts of detail, focusing on different parts of the system. One set of blueprints may describe the overall structure, another may describe the support beams sizes, and another may outline the electrical wiring plan. The details on a blueprint depend on the intended use.

So also, service blueprints can be created at different levels of detail, from different perspectives. It is not necessary to include all of the various layers in a blueprint for it to be useful. Some blueprints may include all seven layers described above, but they will probably be quite large. Blueprints should include just those layers that are necessary to capture the perspective of the process.

Ultimately, the detail of a service blueprint will depend upon the focus of analysis. And like an architectural blueprint, a service process can be represented from a number of different perspectives in various service blueprints.

The following linked pages contain simple service blueprints: one for a sit-down restaurant process and another for a baggage handling process. The restaurant blueprint is drawn from the perspective of a waiter, and includes layers for customer actions, interactions, and the “back office.” The airline baggage handling blueprint considers the arrival of a passenger’s bag, and the transportation of that bag either by the airline or by an inter-carrier airline. These are given as simple examples.

Click here for a restaurant service blueprint.

Click here for an airline service blueprint.

Using Service Blueprints

In her article, Jane Kingman-Brundage describes some of the ways service blueprints can be used by different individuals in the organization, such as in strategy formulation, marketing, and human resources. That list can be expanded dramatically by observing how the study of service blueprints can assist the analysis of issues presented each unit of this workbook. (Some analysis requires more detailed Service Blueprints than others, and sometimes Service Blueprints need to be redrawn from a different perspective: customer’s perspective, front-line employee’s perspective, manager’s perspective, etc..)

Services Management issues that can be addressed by studying Service Blueprints include the following:

Issues from Part I - Fundamentals

Unit 1: Unified Services Theory Basics

  • What are the key customer inputs that define this as a service process?
  • Where in the process do customer inputs enter?
  • How are the customer inputs processed?

Unit 2: Services Fundamentals: Planning

  • What are key production elements that we need to be concerned about in service process design?

Unit 3: Services Fundamentals: Execution

  • What are key elements in the process that should be the focus of day-to-day management?
Issues from Part II: Service Business Strategy

Unit 4: Understanding Non-Services (manufacturing)

  • Besides customers, who are our non-customer suppliers to the process?
  • What is our relationship to our goods suppliers? Would a partnership be appropriate?

Unit 5: Identifying Strategic Opportunities

  • In what ways does/might our service process differ from that of competitors?
  • Where in the process should we allocate resources for competitive advantage?
  • What parts of the service process would need to change if the process were exported?

Unit 6: Identifying Strategic Threats

  • What parts of the process can customers do just as well on their own?
  • What parts of the process must customers practically count on the service company to provide?
  • What parts of the service process are visible to customers and possibly to competitors?
  • What parts of the process could be easily copied by competitors, and which would be difficult to copy?
Issues from Part III - Managing Service Processes

Unit 7: Cost Issues

  • How might process steps in the “back office” be run more efficiently?
  • Can part of the “front office” process be shifted to the back office to realize efficiency cost savings?

Unit 8: Human Resources Management

  • What key skills are needed for new hires to work with the service process? communications? clerical? decision making and problem solving? others?
  • Who makes the key decisions about process direction? the service employee? the customer? company policy?

Unit 9: Marketing in Services

  • Can the customers learn about the quality of the process without actually experiencing it? How? Can the key features of the process be adequately described in print or other media?
  • At what service process steps do employees have the opportunity to encourage customers to repurchase or purchase other services?
  • What process steps are most costly to the service provider or most valuable to the customer? How does this influence the appropriate price to charge for the service?
  • Where in the process do or can customers be given a physical “take away” from the process?

Unit 10: Production and Inventory Control

  • Where does most of the waiting take place in the process?
  • How might the negative effects of customer waiting be mitigated by changing the process during the waits?
Issues from Part IV - Service Quality and Value

Unit 11: Defining Service Quality

  • Where in the service process are customer expectations molded?
  • What are the key steps where customer expectations are met or not met?
  • Where is service failure most likely to occur?
  • What steps can be added to foolproof key parts of the service process?

Unit 12: Challenges in Delivering Service Quality

  • At what point in the service process should customer suggestions and comments be solicited?
  • What is the process for acting on customer suggestions and comments?
  • Where in the process could inadequate customer inputs cause problems?
  • What steps can be included to assure that customer inputs are adequate?

Unit 13: Service Recovery

  • What is the service recovery procedure? Who is responsible for resolving service problems?
  • What are the steps of the decision process for determining how much to compensate customers experiencing service problems?
  • Where in the service process is communications with customers used to assist early detection of possible service problems?

Unit 14: Measuring Service Quality and Productivity

  • Where in the service process is quality measured?
  • If quality is measured by customer surveys, what process steps are used to gather the survey responses?
  • How are quality measures used to help motivate employee attention to crucial elements of the service process?

These are just some examples. Obviously, it would be overwhelming to study all of these issues in one sitting. That is why each unit of this workbook focuses on a particular element. In some units of this workbook you are instructed to create a flowchart (or Service Blueprint) as part of an Application Exercise. However, the exercise of revisiting your Service Blueprint for process insights can be valuable in all of the units.

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== Public sections == * [[usb:toc|Understanding Service Businesses]] book. * [[ibm:ssme:ust|UST paradigm for Service Science]] * [[ibm:ssme:cambridge07|Cambridge 2007 notes]] ---- * [[:start]] * [[http://services.byu.edu/sw/doku.php?do=index|Site map]] * [[http://services.byu.edu/sw/doku.php?do=recent|Recent Changes]] * [[:wiki:dokuwiki|Help]] == Private sections == * [[gscm:pub|BYU GSCM student recruiting]] * [[ibm:scm|IBM SCM case study]] * [[cos:top|Commoditization of Services]] research

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